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Where the rubber meets the road

 

One school of thought holds that poverty will always be with us. Perhaps, but that overlooks the fact that government, however flawed, can make an important difference for the better on important issues.

Two examples:

1) The federal government, through the Democratic administration of LBJ and the Republican one of Richard Nixon, dramatically diminished the prevalence of hunger in America. Cuts in federal food programs, combined with the recession of the early '80s, brought about what was thought to be a temporary solution -- the food pantries and soup kitchens that have multiplied across America. And widespread hunger very much remains with us.

2) Our current national fiscal crisis was caused, in part, by a failure of checks and balances -- a situation laid out in detail by Michael "Moneyball" Lewis in a lengthy NYT op-ed on Sunday. Lewis and his co-author also make the point that a focus on the short-term -- unsustainable, but wholly supported by the titans of Wall Street -- brought us to this point.

Rhode Island, as we know, faces big deficits and a painful season of cuts at Smith Hill. Governor Carcieri, meanwhile, will elaborate on his plans tonight.

In light of all this, a group of religious leaders yesterday offered prayers for the state's leaders, making the point that government plays a vital role. From the RI Interfaith Coalition:

“[Yesterday's] Prayer Vigil will remind our General Officers, members of the General Assembly, Mayors and others that the faith community will be praying for them during this legislative session,” stated Maxine Richman, Board Member of the Jewish Council of Public Affairs. “We know that, as elected officials, they will be shaping the future of Rhode Island and its people, including families with children who depend upon the State for assistance with such as food, healthcare, education, and shelter. We also know that this coming session will require tough decisions and will require that our elected officials be innovative and compassionate. At the very least, in offering prayer, the faith-based community states its commitment that no one should go to bed hungry and no one should be homeless.”

The faith leaders prayed that the elected officials of Rhode Island work for:

• Abatement of hunger and poverty and enactment of policies benefiting the most vulnerable
• Sustainable communities marked by affordable homes, access to good jobs and public safety
• High quality public education for all and universal, affordable and accessible healthcare
• A system of criminal rehabilitation, based on restorative justice
• Full, civil, political and economic rights for women and men of all races

Faith leaders acknowledged the financial difficulties which legislative leaders face this upcoming session. Rhode Island, similar to many other states across the country, is facing a severe financial crisis. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities at least 44 states faced or are facing shortfalls in their budgets for this and/or next year, and severe fiscal problems are highly likely to continue into the following year as well.  Combined budget gaps for the remainder of this fiscal year and state fiscal years 2010 and 2011 are estimated to total more than $350 billion.

Additionally, faith leaders recognize the current dismal economic realities Rhode Islanders face of high housing cost (RI is 9th in the country for unaffordability for renters), rising cost of living expenses and job instability (unemployment rate in RI climbed to 9.3 %, the worst in the nation along with Michigan). These factors produce a financial stress for average Rhode Islanders that is at an all time high.

“We acknowledge that these are difficult times,” stated Reverend Dr. Donald Anderson, Executive Minister for the Rhode Island State Council of Churches. “For some this may seem a time of despair and defeat.  How can we move forward against a tide that is so strong and swift?  But people of faith have always been people of hope because we believe in a God of hope. All of our traditions speak of the need for people of faith to do battle with the evil causes of poverty.  Charity is a good and honorable expression of concern, but God calls us beyond charity to justice.”

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